Austin Heritage Tree Foundation
Protecting trees


                                               CM Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo
                    Protect Creeks, Trees And Wildlife From 12 Ft. Wide Concrete Urban Trails

Thanks to all who emailed on the urban trails master plan.  Outcome was good.  UTMP was approved and administrative variance was not removed, but oversight and approval from council for the special trails cases that affect the environment (near creeks) was added and all trail information will be posted by Public Works on a website.

In addition, Watershed is working on adding findings of fact to guide staff when granting the trail administrative variance.


Please, save creeks, trees, and wildlife.  Email Council today 09.25.14 before 7 pm to ask removal of the administrative variance from the UTMP and require review by the Environmental Board and Planning Commission at 30% design and approval at 90% design of variances and site plans for all hard surface (concrete or asphalt) urban trails located in the CWQZ.


The UTMP includes an administrative variance to the Watershed Protection Ordinance (WPO) and only a briefing (not a review or approval) to the Environmental board and other boards and commissions at 30 % design.  More briefings will be given if requested, but approval will NOT be required from boards and commissions, not even for the final site plans or 12 ft. wide concrete trails located in the 1/2 CWQZ.

The administrative variance does not include any findings of fact to guide City staff, like the administrative variances for Critical Environmental Features, creek bank Cut and Fill, and Erosion Hazard Zone do, or conditions to grant an administrative variance like the Heritage Tree Ordinance does.  It is a blank administrative variance that will be granted to the City as well as to developers because City code applies to all.  The administrative variance does not have any public input or notification, and it doesn't comply with the Environmental board recommendations when they approved the WPO and the UTMP.

We can't support the UTMP as written because the administrative variance defeats the purpose of the WPO and allows 12 ft. wide concrete trails to be built next to all of the creeks, including undisturbed wooded areas, without the required buffer.


We support trails and connectivity.  Who doesn't like to walk in a primitive trail and admire nature?  However, urban trails are NOT primitive trails but concrete trails wider that a one lane road to be built along all of our creeks, using floodplains and greenbelts as greenways.  

Urban trails are 12 ft. wide concrete trails, a one size fits all design, that will impact the environmental significantly and must be built away from creeks and undisturbed wooded greenbelts to protect creeks, trees and wildlife habitat.  All vegetation and trees will be removed from a 40 ft. wide area to build the concrete trail, and 5 ft. one each side of the 12 ft. wide trail will be mowed and maintained with low vegetation for safety.  This means that there will be a 25 ft. wide permanent clearance in wooden greenbelts near the creeks.  The WPO requires that the trail be built in the outer buffer to avoid this, but the administrative variance bypasses this requirement.


Chad Crager and Nadia Barrera. Public Works Neighborhood Connectivity (PW), say that urban trails will be built without harming creeks trees or wildlife, and will abide by all regulations, including the WPO, and use the required buffers to build concrete trails away from the creeks.  However, Watershed tells us that PW will use the administrative variance when the public land to build the trail is too narrow to allow the required buffers, but that protective works will be required.  Protective works means that the creek banks will be removed, all trees and vegetation will be gone, and rock or concrete walls will be built instead of the creek banks.  


That is no better than when, forty years ago, Watershed channelized creeks by pouring concrete where the creek beds used to be.  If there isn't enough land to adequately separate a 12 ft. wide concrete trail from the creek, then the concrete trail should not be built at that specific portion of the trail corridor, and connectivity should be obtained via a different route for that portion of the trail corridor.  Protecting the environment should come first.


Watershed says that it won't happen because the protective works will make it more expensive.  But cost never matters in City projects other than to get the funding, because trail projects have to be funded prior to starting and they are funded based on estimates.  Like the budget, staff gets penalized if they save money and spend less that estimated because that means that they didn't estimate the cost properly.  With those restrictions, it is best to estimate including the worse (protective works) and then build the worse even if there are alternatives.


 PW also says that they will use permeable surfaces when feasible but they have made it clear the porous or permeable concrete is not acceptable currently, and neither is Decomposed Granite or mulch. Urban trails will have a concrete or asphalt surface regardless of location.


The Environmental board approved the WPO (#21030717 006A, July 17, 2013) with the requirement that the language be revised by Watershed to clarify that trails are allowed in the 1/2 CWQZ but outside the Erosion Hazard Zone only if there is no space outside the 1/2 CWQZ.  Environmental Board member Jim Schissler discussed at the dais (this is recorded in the meeting video) that this would address the concerns from citizens regarding trail buffers because the City would have to come to the Environmental Board for a waiver (variance) and review by the Environmental Board and land commission if they build anything else other than a utility crossing in the CWQZ

As a response to the board's requirement, Watershed added the trail administrative variance to the WPO, based on which now the PW Connectivity group says that they don't have to go for a review or ask for a variance from the Environment board and land commission.  The Connectivity group refuses to remove the administrative variance from the UTMP because the WPO allows

They also refuse to add to the UTMP that they will go for a review (and request a variance) from the Environmental Board and the land commission when planning to build a concrete trail in the 1/2 CWQZ.  Instead, they propose to go the boards and commissions for a briefing at 30% to get early feedback, and return for additional briefings if requested, but not be required to follow recommendations or obtain approval from the Environmental board.  

We asked PW to go to the Environmental board for early review at 30% design so that the public can participate and submit alternative trail routes or concerns, and for approval of variances and site plans at 90%.  They only agreed to a 30% design briefing

The Environmental Board approved the UTMP (20140604 005c, June 4, 2014) with the requirement that the plan would include clear criteria that would indicate trail projects that must come before the boards and commissions for review, and that criteria may exceed those indicated in current code such as trail construction in the EHZ, in the 1/2 CWQZ, in 3/4 CRZ of heritage trees, within a required CEF setback, etc. 

The Connectivity Group refuses to do this and states that any urban trail that doesn't meet minimum standards or seeks administrative variances will  go to the Environmental board prior to finalizing design but only for a briefing, not for a review and not for approval of variances or site plans, not even for 12 ft. wide concrete urban trails located in the CWQZ.


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